Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Secret of the Guan Fortress, Shixing, Shaoguan (神秘的官家围楼, 韶关,始兴县,隘子)

Not long after we moved into our house in Melrose, I had recurring dreams about secret rooms in my house which I did not know about. The rooms were filled with old things that I could never dream to have. I opened one door that led me to others, so many rooms that I could easily get lost inside. Once I dreamed the rooms were filled with old Victorian stuff; I even dreamed that the British Queen wanted to see me. I was shaking my head wondering after, I woke up, how crazy was that? Another time, I dreamed the rooms were filled with old-style black lacquer furniture like my grandmother had in each room. I was sending my sons to each room so they did not have to share their bedroom as they did now. 
     I always came out to a rural place that I did not know with a river close by. I was lost, I tried to find a way back to my house. I was running away from something, sometimes so fast, almost flying, other times I was floating in the river and allowing the current to carry me downstream. There was a fear of danger in my dream. I never knew how to explain my dreams. Water makes me afraid. I used to joke with my husband that our house might actually have hidden treasure since it was a colonial house over 100 years old.
     Years later, I was searching for our Guan’s family information when I came across this CCTV’s short video on The Secret Guan Fortress (神秘的官家围楼). It is located in Shixing, Shaoguan ( 韶关,始兴县,隘子).  In 1589, Matteo Ricci built a mission house, the first ever Jesuit mission in Shaoguan, China. He stayed in Shaoguan for a few years and built his connections that allowed him to move north, to Nanchang, Nanjing, and Beijing.
     Guan Qian Rong (官乾荣) started to build the Fortress in 1833 during the Qing Dynasty (清朝) and the construction was finished in 1860, four years after Guan Qian Rong had died. It took 28 years to build. It still bears the family name Guan (官) today and some 20 Guan families live inside. They are all poor farmers now with young and strong migrant workers earning money to bring home. The elderly, women, and children are left behind. 
Guan Qian Rong (官乾荣)
    The grandfather Guan Qian Rong (官乾荣) had the best Fushui master select the site. They spent months surveying and finally decided on this isthmus where two rivers united forming a delta. The complex would be shaped like a boat along the river. The boat was the culture of the people in SaoWu in the foothills of Mt. Wuyi since their life depended on the boat; they even shaped their coffins like boats. Guan must have carried the boat culture with them. Behind was Ma Wei Lion Mountain, facing seven small hills. There were seven Taoist monks living in the seven mountains. One year, there was a severe drought, and no harvest. A poor farmer thought that the seven monks might not have anything to eat, so she sent her daughter, Yami, to bring some grain to them. Yami was surprised to see the seven monks waiting outside for her with a grain container. She poured her grain into the container, and turned around to go home. The seven monks stopped her. They wanted her to take this container of grain down to her village and give this much grain to each villager. She was puzzled, but did what the seven monks asked her to do. Somehow the grain container never emptied and each villager received a container-full of grain. After that, Yami went back to the hill to return the container to the monks, but they were nowhere to be found. The local people said that they became seven stars.
     The complex was in the shape of boat, which symbolized the Guan family and the family’s wealth would rise and fall depending upon whether the water was high or low. The Guan’s family boat would never sink, however. There were three double closed rectangular structures, 777 rooms, 7 doors and 7 turns. Seven was their special, lucky number, since they followed Taoism. There was a family shrine in the upper section where there was an engraved painting on wood coated with gold. The painting symbolized the wish to be promoted again as a government official back at the royal palace, with many sons and longevity. There are 12 courts, 1-4 floors, 9 halls, 6 sky lights, and 2 water wells still used by the remaining Guan today.
Guan Fortress官家围楼, the biggest in the Guangdong province
 
My Guan cousins in front of the fortress, the entry door was covered with metal, plus 5 more backups
The boat shape of the Guan Fortress in on this isthmus where two rivers united forming a delta
One of the shooting holes upstairs
One of the small lookout windows on the top
One of the two wells inside
One of the handheld farm machines inside
The overview of the town Aizi (隘子) by Guan Weiming (官伟民)
One of the two rivers by Guan Weiming (官伟民)
     There were over ten thousand defense mechanisms, numerous holes for shooting, and a cannon tower to guard this fortress. The outside wall was double with sand and gravel in between; the wall was built 8-24 meters thick with granite stones at the corners. In case someone tried to dig a hole to get inside, sand and gravel would crash down filling the hole. There was only one-entry door, which was covered with metal, plus 5 more backup doors, but there were 7 very small back doors connecting each inside court. One dead corner that could only fit one person actually had 7 doors to each direction of the complex. There were water towers on both sides of the entry and on top in case of fire. All the windows had bars that could only open from inside. Many secret hiding rooms existed that only the oldest grandfather passed on to the next grandfather. One of them was actually right above the gate. Many had tried to get in throughout the years, such as Hong Xiuquan’s (the Heavenly King) army and the Japanese. They tried for days to break in, but no one ever succeeded. 
     The complex was originally contracted to a far away architect named Liu. Afterward, Guan Qian Rong (官乾荣) learned that local Zhang Zhan-Ye (張赞业) was the 33rd generation offspring of Zhang Jou Lin (張九龄), a chancellor in Tang Dynasty (678-740). Zhang Zhan-Ye was only thirty-eight years old at the time. He had been away from home since he was fifteen years old. He went around the country to help build many great structures, including repairs of the Forbidden City. He was very well known. Due to his addiction to opium, he was stuck at home, unemployed. They paid Liu a huge fine and give the job to Zhang Zhan Ye (張赞业). Before Zhang signed the contract with Guan, he requested unlimited supplies of opium and Guan could deduct the opium money from his pay. The phrase“洋烟不足, 动工不得” means “Not enough foreign opium, unable to work.” This phrase became a local joke.
     After overcoming his opium addiction, Zhang did work very hard. Twelve helpers were not enough to help him. He made sure the work was the very best from design to finish. When it was time to lay the foundation, they found water to be a problem, so they clear-cut a whole mountain full of pine, and put down nine layers before they laid the foundation.
     The family of Guan had so much money, one of the grandfathers remembered a room filled from the floor to the ceiling with it. One of the caretakers for their fishpond found silver in the pond with his fishing net. He told the owner Guan; Guan told him that he had dreamed about five ghosts dumping silver in the pond, telling him that they came to pay back their debt to the Guans from their previous life. Now you knew it too, he asked the caretaker to drain the pond, take out all of the silver, told him to keep this a secret, and then gave him some of the silver, asking him to go home to start his own fish pond in his hometown. The hidden treasure sustained the Guan for over 100 years, the peak time, when there were 200 Shangguan families living in this complex. Guan Qian Rong’s will requested that his offspring to live in this complex. He wanted one son to stay inside if there were two sons. Yet his sons moved out, brought/built their houses outside of the complex and some never intended to move in.
     There were 4 big families there: Guan, Du, Hua, and Zhang. Guan became the strongest shortly after their arrival in 1438 (Ming Dynasty) from Shanghung (上杭), DingZhou (汀州), Fujian (福建). They even moved their grandparents’ grave over from Fujian after they settled. When Guan first moved into town, the Du family was already well-rooted. Guan soon took over Du after marrying into the Du family. Then, Guan was getting closer to the Zhang family and the two married into each other’s families. The Guan family did not get along with the Hua family. They fought a few times, then left each other alone. 
     The large Guan family had its own family laws to ensure its future. The first rule for an individual was to never marry into a family sharing the same family name; marrying cousins was very common back then. Never beat your father or grandfather; never disrespect your older sister. Never commit adultery/rape (men could have as many wives as they could afford). Never steal from others. Both learning to farm and going to school were equally important. It called “耕读传家” also one of Hakka tradition, which means passing on Farming and Education .
     Punishment ranged from kneeling for hours inside, then outside of the complex as minor punishments, then caning, and expulsion. Those kicked out from the Guan families were never able to come back and the most severe punishment was death. There was one instance of capital punishment in Guan history in the fortress. No name was recorded, the perpetrator’s nickname was “Old Bear.” He was shot between 1912-1945.” It said he was a shame to the Guan family, nothing more.
     There was another one who did not take the family’s arranged marriage, and ran away with his lover. He is about 80 year old now and never returned. In 1950, during the Communist land reform, one Guan member brought others to dig up one of Guan’s ancestor tombs. He was expelled from the Guan family, only recently, after he donated a lot of money, did the ruling members vote to let him back into the group. In the 1980s, one Guan family’s grandfather committed suicide, because his son did not take good care of him; the son and his wife had to kneel on the ground on the street for hours, while the rest of the family and locals scolded them.
      I certainly had my punishment already when I was five or six years old after stealing my uncle’s money for candy. That was only time I had to kneel on the ground and received a beating in front of everyone, which I will never forget.
     There was another Guan whose real name no one knew, but his nickname was “European Dog.” When he was little, he broke every one of his dishes after he ate just for fun. When he was older, he only ate the young chickens before they laid eggs. He never saved his money and used up everything he had. Fun was always more important for him. After his father passed away, he used up his inheritance in no time. In this way, he started his life as a vagabond begging and stayed at the temple at night. He was very intelligent and well-educated. One day, a wealthy man passing the temple noticed his writing on the wall (日食千家饭 夜宿破庙亭 不做为非事, 快活一世人), which means meals from thousands of homes, sleep in the broken temple, never do a bad thing, joy all lifelong. He hired him home as teacher for his children; he only stayed around ten days, before returning to his free, wandering life until he died.
     There were three branches representing the top (ancestors’ house/shrine) for all Guans founded in 1442, oldest, rich, and powerful (usually the first wife and their children); middle (second wife and their children); and bottom (3rd, 4th wives and their children). It usually consisted of thirty-five members’ control over each area. Each family’s income and expenses were open to all family members, so no one thought they were unfairly treated.
     The top rule was that Guan families should never sell their land or business to outsiders. If for some reason one Guan family had to sell their land, the others should try to buy it first. If this was not possible, their ancestor hall for all Guans would purchase the land using the public’s money and rent it back to the seller or just put the family on welfare if they were unable to work. Guan family members were encouraged to expand and explore outside of their land, but had to always remember to contribute to their ancestor’s hall for the benefit of all Guans.
     The Guan family built roads and bridges to help poor families. They even helped poor men marry their wives, since they did not have enough money to marry them on their own. In addition, they founded and operated seven grammar schools. All seven schools were free for all local children; some families even received a little money to make up for missing labor while their kids were in school. They founded another private school for all Guan’s children from grammar school to college, but it was not free; in fact, it was very expensive. It was well- known that other counties would send their children to the Guan’s family school. Ten Chinese National Generals graduated from Guan’s private family school. In the 500 years that the Guans operated the schools, they produced 741 government officials. In 1902, seven Guans passed the official test (Xiu Cai). These seven Guans became local governors in seven states. In 1940, Guan families owned 60% of the agricultural land in town, plus most of the forests. In a 1996 census, the town had 19,000 people, 43 surnames, and about 8,000 people had Guan as their surname. The Guans moved into Qing Hua after 560 years with 23 generations.
      One hundred and fifty years have gone by and the complex is still in excellent condition without even one crack. Far away from big cities, it has always been a refuge for the Guan family in hard times. 
始兴县客家围楼藏宝图的秘密 
This boat house located near Mt. Wuyi
There is another very similar Secret Boat Shape building complex Part 1 Part 2 near the base of MT. Wuyi in Jiangxi
The Secret Guan Fortress (神秘的官家围楼).
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围屋里的女人